Jeff Drake, President of GoRoma, a fast-casual Italian restaurant with six locations in the Chicago area, is glad he decided to feature gluten-free menu options. The chain had always had some gluten-free items available and plenty of requests for them, but by simply putting the GF (gluten-free) mark on the items that were gluten-free, GoRoma saw demand for those items skyrocket almost immediately. Only three weeks after rolling out the new menus, the sales of the gluten-free pasta were up an impressive amount. The move was a raging success.
Word spreads fast.
"We had regular guests tell us how happy they were to now be able to bring their friends in who are gluten-free. They hadn't felt able to do that before," Jeff explained.
The gluten-free offerings have produced some raving fans that help drive sales by being active on GoRoma's Facebook page. In addition to social media and the physical menu changes, GoRoma also got the word out by alerting customers through the website, an email blast and by contacting Celiac disease support groups.
But while people with Celiac disease do make up a portion of the population clamoring for gluten-free menu offerings, they are not the only ones. Eliminating gluten from the diet is a growing health trend for many people. Some are allergic to wheat, and some find it easier to lose weight if they don't eat things with gluten in them. (Most fast foods and junk foods have gluten in some form.) Whatever the reason, all people who are gluten-free are ecstatic to find restaurants like GoRoma that listen and cater to their needs.
Another factor of interest to restaurateurs is the matter of pricing. By some estimates, people are willing to pay up to $2 more for a specialty menu item like gluten-free pasta. After all, if it is something that they crave and that just isn't available most other places, they aren't going to worry much about the price.
Thinking about going gluten-free?
Restaurants interested in having a gluten-free offering on their menu should do the proper due diligence. The sources and effects of gluten and cross-contamination are not necessarily self-explanatory. Using a gluten-free consultant can eliminate any doubt when it comes to the gluten-free status of a particular menu item. It is also necessary to require employees to be properly trained to make sure that no cross-contamination takes place and that gluten-free items remain gluten-free.
Going with a gluten-free offering was mostly a no-brainer for GoRoma. The majority of its pasta sauces were already gluten-free, as well as some salads and soup. The crux turned out to be finding the right gluten-free pasta – that took three months. But it was worth the effort. Sales are up, customers are happy, and GoRoma is getting great reviews. It just goes to show that going gluten-free doesn't have to be costly and may end up being a win-win for everyone.
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.